Have you ever tried clicker training with your dog?
Clicker training is currently a very popular training method, and there’s good reason for that. If you haven’t tried it yet here are some facts about it, good reasons to do so, and some tips to get started.
The Science Behind It:
Clicker training is based on the theory of operant conditioning. This term was coined by B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist and behaviorist. Animals learn that their actions can control their environment. For example, they learn that ringing a bell gets the door to open.
It is positive reinforcement based training, with treats used as the reward to help your dog learn basic obedience skills as well as fun tricks.
The Reality of How it Works:
The biggest complaint I’ve heard from pet families regarding clicker training is that it takes a lot of coordination on the humans’ part. Yes, to an extent this is true, but even the most uncoordinated person can make this work. I know that from my own personal experience.
There are tools out there that can help as well. For example, I use a hands free leash when training “heel”. That keeps my hands free for clicking and handing out treats. There are also clicker sticks, a retractable stick with a ball on the end and a clicker built right in, for target training (teaching a dog to touch certain objects). There are also clickers available that attach right to a leash.
The clicker can make training easier, and training in and of itself is a great bonding experience for you and your dog. It can be very exciting when your dog picks up this skill and you can expand his horizons greatly; there is really no end to what you can teach your dog using a clicker.
You don’t need a lot of fancy or expensive tools for clicker training. Clickers are cheap, and the only other thing you need are treats. A leash can also come in handy, as well as a treat bag. Hands free leashes and clicker sticks are optional, but can also be found at reasonable prices.
It can help to go to training classes to learn this skill, but there are many books available on this subject and you can certainly learn it yourself at home.
A common problem for some dogs is that they are afraid of the noise of the clicker. If that happens, you can wrap tape around the clicker or use a ball point pen that clicks. We had that issue with our Labrador retriever mix at first, and by muffling it initially, he got used to it and we were able to take the tape off eventually.
The first thing you want to do is to “load (or charge) the clicker.” That is a way of teaching your dog that the click means a reward. Simply click the clicker and then give your dog a treat. Repeat this 20-30 times and for a few sessions over a couple of days. Then you can test your dog by clicking at a different time and seeing if he gets excited and is looking for a treat.
Once you have trained your dog that the clicker means good things, you can either lure him to do the desired behavior or trick, or you can wait for him to present you with a desired behavior and then click and treat as he does it, eventually working your way up to adding a verbal command to the action.
Important to Remember
Take it slow!
Starting out, you might want to keep your sessions to about 10 minutes or less twice per day. Make sure your dog has learned a step well before moving to the next. If you move too fast, back up and start over again.
If your dog is not responding well, it might be the wrong time for training. Don’t be afraid to cut a session short and to try again at another time. Always end on a positive note; when your dog is successful at that step, and give him an extra bonus of numerous treats and lots of praise when you are done.
It’s Not for Everyone:
Some dogs simply don’t respond well to clicker training. Every dog is different. Our young Lab mix is a whiz, but our two older girls don’t do as well with it. There are always other training methods. If it doesn’t work for you or your dog, try something different or consider signing up for a training class to learn what does. Believe that all dogs are intelligent and capable of learning, and don’t give up on them!
Janet Keefe – Blogger, Wag ‘n Woof Pets
Jan Keefe works as a part time bookkeeper, though her passion is blogging about pets on the website she created, Wag ‘n Woof Pets. She formerly co-owned a pet sitting business, but writing has always been her dream. Jan grew up with many cats, as well as rabbits and birds, and came to love dogs most of all later in life. She enjoys writing about her family of pets which includes three dogs, Sheba, a golden retriever, Cricket, a beagle, Luke, a Labrador retriever mix; and one cat, Samantha. Her blog is about the joys and realities of life with pets, covering health, fitness, training and pet product reviews.